Making good on a pledge by Attorney General Eric Holder last summer, the Justice Department’s new “kleptocracy unit” will soon go after the assets of corrupt foreign officials who stuff their pockets while their people struggle in poverty, DOJ officials say.
The new unit is staffed by five lawyers and is housed in the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, the officials told The Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents blog. The section is headed by veteran Justice Department official and anti-corruption expert Jennifer Shasky.
The FBI has assigned two agents to the effort to supplement the efforts of established anti-corruption units in Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the blog reported.
Holder dubbed the effort the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative when he announced it in a speech last July in Uganda. He said it would be “aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations.”
The campaign relies on civil forfeiture law. “We are going to bring cases against the assets of those around the world who have stolen from their citizenry and have taken money that obviously belongs to their country,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Criminal Division, according to Corruption Currents. “Those people are the embodiment, in some ways, of what’s wrong in these countries.”
The assets of foreign politicians who have left office and are no longer in a position to thwart investigations are expected to be the main targets of the new drive, and several complaints are said to be likely this year. People familiar with the emerging anti-kleptocracy drive say they do not underestimate the ingenuity of greedy dictators in trying to devise new ways to hide their booty.
Already, the FBI is said to be studying the assets of the ousted Tunisian president, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, and his family. Whether the continuing unrest in the Arab world topples more governments, and urges more leaders to flee with their suitcases bulging, remains to be seen.